My first best friend was a redhead named Mary who lived next door to us in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Mary and I spent every spare moment together playing house, school, swinging on her swing set and talking about everything that is important in the life of little girls.
Our family moved in the middle of fourth grade, and I was very sad to leave Mary behind. We stayed in touch for a few years, but eventually, and predictably, our lives drifted apart. Although I have had a number of good friends since that time, none comes close to the memory of my first best friend.
A few weeks ago when Tom and I spent the weekend attending a local marriage conference, one of the topics we explored was our legacy. Essentially, what kind of statement we want to leave behind. One exercise went so far as to ask us what we believed our friends would say about us at our funeral. Quite frankly, I thought it was a bit morbid and I have to admit I'd never pondered that particular subject. But as I started to think about the people in my life that I call friends, I began to wonder if what I thought they'd say is really what they'd say, and more importantly, what they'd feel in their hearts.
Before I share my answer, I will preface it by stating I have never been a person who had a ton of friends, which is okay because as I tell my husband all the time, "Kim Muench isn't for everyone." And, I do have an assortment of people in my life that I would call 'friend' but, in my opinion, there are degrees of friendship.
First Degree: friend-of-a-friend/acquaintance. Or the "any friend of Suzie's is a friend of mine." You know, people you wave to, or nod at, when you pass them at the grocery store.
Second Degree: surface friends. The ones you chat with at cocktail parties, kids sporting events, and exercise classes. You have something in common and you're cordial, but you don't truly know them (the social mask is definitely on).
Third Degree: people you socialize with on a fairly regular basis. You would invite them to dinner with kids, invite her to your CAbi party, maybe sit with them at the annual school fundraiser but, again, for the most part the mask is on.
Fourth Degree: true friends. These are the people who really "know" you. The ones you can let your guard down with and not feel like they'd turn around and blab your personal issues with anyone else who cared to ask (or even those who didn't). There is no social mask to be found here. True friends sympathize, but don't judge. Laugh with you, but never at your expense, and offer advice (while sometimes not welcome) out of love for your well-being. They would drop everything to be there in an emergency, without hesitation.
I can honestly count these people in my life on one hand. It's these people, who, if they attended my funeral, I hope would say (and this is the answer I gave in my little workshop workbook...), "If she had it and you needed it, she wouldn't hesitate to hand it over. She was a great listener, someone you could count on whenever you called on her. She always made me feel good about myself, I am a better person for having had her in my life."
Friendship is a funny thing. Sometimes it lasts a long time, sometimes paths cross just briefly. Sometimes you wish they'd have stayed longer...sometimes its the right time to move on. Some friends (no matter how far away they live), return and you can pick up right where you left off, no matter how long it's been. I have used Facebook in recent months to get back in touch with people whom I would likely never have had another conversation, but whose witty banter I often count on to make me smile.
When I think about friendship I am reminded of the Pretenders tune, I'll stand by you. I value my friends as much as I do my family, and if I haven't told you often enough, or lately at all, thanks for being my friend;o)